How do four high school students handle the pressure of 50,000 people staring at them on a national stage, while millions more watch from the comfort of their own home through the TV, as they wait to hear their name called during the 94th National FFA Convention and Expo?
“It was just crazy,” Paris FFA member Katrina Thomas says.
“You look out into the crowd, and it almost made you sick trying to see everybody,” chapter President Carlee Long says.
“We were fortunate that our state officers and a bunch of our chapter members were right in front of the stage,” Thomas adds. “We focused on them.”
But when the Paris FFA chapter was announced as the Model of Excellence winner, making this Missouri chapter the No. 1 program in the nation, well, the girls screamed, cried and dropped the award. Their reaction to the moment captured in the above photo is priceless.
However, with that picture, I realized my own failing in raising my girls.
No matter the win in FFA or in the livestock show ring, before they went out, I said these five words: “Act like you’ve been there.” The statement called on them to act professional, not proud; humble, not humorous; and grateful, not giddy.
Man, was I wrong. In fact, all I succeeded in doing with my expectations and those five words was strip them of their moment.
Not about you
The 30-something me likely would’ve looked at the Paris FFA members response to winning as unprofessional. There is a sense of decorum expected when you are on the national stage. Stand still. Arms at your side. Smile. Shake hands. Hold your plaque. Turn. Walk off. And that’s just it — it is an adult expectation for a youth organization.
I grant you that some who walk across the National FFA stage are adults, as many awards are given after a senior year when most are 18 and in college. But there are still those in high school, and what we forgot as adults is the sheer terror and joy of winning. Or perhaps we haven’t had that experience, so honestly, we don’t know how we would respond, yet we judge those young people who do.
It all boils down to the fact that we truly don’t know what others are thinking in that moment.
All about them
My daughters should’ve been able to react to the wins.
They may have cried or, as they say, “ugly cried” because they realized all the obstacles and disappointments they overcame for that win. The times spent in the barn frantically trying to revive a baby lamb only to have it die. The exhaustion from coming home after school, FFA meetings and a cappella practice to feed in the snow. The idea that their grandma would’ve loved this moment, and she is not there to see it.
They may have fist-pumped or high-fived because they realized it wasn’t only them winning. It was washing and fitting with Mom and Dad, ringside instruction from an uncle and showing alongside their sister as the judge approached with an outstretched hand that culminated in this moment. It was a team effort.
Simply, they may have laughed because it is an outward expression of an inward emotion — pure joy.
Whatever the response, it was theirs, but I made it mine.
Don’t limit your kids
The 50-something me wants to put a smackdown on 30-something me right now. I was so hyperfocused on how the outside world would view my daughters’ response and judge them accordingly that I circled my wagons and crafted the reaction to protect them. Unfortunately, my fears are still warranted today and keep popping up because of social media.
Adults take to their channel of choice to pass judgment on children without facts — simply their own opinion, their view of an emotion from the sidelines. I know what Paris FFA members thought in that second because I asked. I know what went on to warrant that look, that reaction.
If we, as adults, could serve as a model and stop the spread of negativity on social media, then our children could relish those moments without worry of backlash.
Our kids should not have to “act like they’ve been there.” Sometimes they haven’t. Other times, they have simply been successful. As adults — as parents, friends and neighbors — we should encourage their wins, but more importantly, let them experience their moments. For Paris FFA, it was one filled with humor and joy.